Our Denver Nuggets are poised to win at least 50 games for the fifth time in six years. That's an astounding accomplishment for anyone who has followed this team since it joined the NBA in 1976. Even during the team's heyday of the 1980s under head coach Doug Moe, the Nuggets won 50 games just twice. Now granted, that 23-team NBA of Moe's era was a lot more competitive than the 30-team, talent-diluted NBA the Nuggets get to play in today. But 50 wins is still 50 wins - a generally accepted benchmark for regular season success in professional basketball.
But alas, as we in Nuggets Nation know all too well, 50 wins barely gets you a ticket to the post-season dance in the modern day Western Conference. And at present, despite being on track for those 50 wins, the Nuggets find themselves holding onto the conference's fifth-seed, five games back of the three-seeded Los Angeles Clippers and a game-and-a-half back of the fourth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies.
Thanks to a pre-All-Star break three-game losing streak for the Nuggets (and the return of Chris Paul to the Clippers lineup), I no longer foresee the Nuggets closing the gap with the stronger L.A. team and getting that third seed. Sorry, fellow Stiffs. I do, however, foresee the Nuggets overtaking Memphis for that coveted four seed.
Here's why ...
Of the Nuggets 28 remaining games, 16 are at home and 12 are on the road. Assuming the Nuggets keep up their home winning pace of 88%, that's 14 more wins right there. And you have to figure with road games against the likes of the Wizards, Bobcats, Kings, Suns, Mavericks, Hornets and Bucks the Nuggets can pick up at least five more road wins. So 14 more home wins plus five more road wins and the Nuggets are sitting at 52 wins by season's end.
The Grizzlies, meanwhile - who don't possess Denver's monstrous home court advantage - only have 12 home games left to go along with 19 road games. Assuming the Grizzlies continue to win 70% of their home games (about eight wins) and 50% of their road games (about 10 wins), the Grizzlies will finish with ... 51 wins.
All of this makes that March 15th Grizzlies at Nuggets game so important. Having beaten Memphis in two of their first three meetings, the Nuggets can give themselves a full one game advantage over the Grizzlies by securing the head-to-head tiebreaker. Should the Grizzlies steal that one, it's anyone's guess as to who will have a better conference record - the next level of tiebreaker for playoff seeding.
Now, if you're buying into the negativity coming out of Denver's main news organization when it comes to the Nuggets, on Sunday from Woody Paige and recently from Mark Kiszla, you're thinking: "Does it really matter where the Nuggets end up, Andrew? Even if they win a first round series, the Nuggets are toast against the Thunder, Spurs or Clippers in the second round." (And to be clear, I agree with Woody and Kiz that the Nuggets aren't getting past the second round.)
But it does matter.
For a team that has lost in the first round of the playoffs every year (except one) since 2004, a first round series victory - just two years removed from trading Carmelo Anthony to New York - would be great for our players, our coaching staff and our fans. A first round victory would cement Denver as a more desirable destination for free agents and show the basketball world that "teamness" (to borrow a phrase from head coach George Karl) does work ... at least in incremental steps.
The Nuggets have 28 regular season games to go to use that teamness to get that fourth seed and put themselves in position to go a step further than we've become accustomed to here in Denver. And this fan is certainly excited about it.
On to the links ...
Woody Paige: Nuggets don't look good enough to wear NBA crown - The Denver Post
Woody Paige joins the chorus of skeptics who don't believe the Nuggets can get far in the 2013 post-season.
Nuggets' Kenneth Faried unable to win slam-dunk contest - The Denver Post
Kenneth Faried did Nuggets Nation proud throughout All-Star weekend, including having perhaps the best single dunk in the slam dunk contest a night after wining the Rising Stars Game MVP.
Denver Nuggets' Andre Miller keeps current with old-school excellence - The Denver Post
Benjamin Hochman writes at length about the durable Andre Miller ... a week after I trashed the guy for making some bad late-game decisions.